Hand Tool Journey #11: Turn of the Century Disston Dovetail Saw

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Blog entry by Blake posted 11-14-2008 12:42 AM 8953 reads 1 time favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 10: First Hand-Cut Dovetails Part 11 of Hand Tool Journey series Part 12: 100+ year old Disston Backsaw ...RESTORED »

I found this beautiful old saw hanging on my wall yesterday. I think I bought it at at the flea market a while back and forgot about it.

Its really nice, but its been abused and neglected. Its time for a face lift. I am assuming it is a dovetail saw? I want to know more about it. I would like to become more of a hand tool user.

On the blade it says ”HENRY DISSTON AND SONS, CAST STEEL, PHILADA.USA, WARRENTED” And the handle says ”C. ROSENBURG” on both sides. It also has an X marked on the edge of the blade stiffener.

What can you tell me about this saw?

  • About how old is it?
  • Is there a name for this style or shape?

I plan on restoring it to a usable and very nice looking saw. I will start by separating the handle and blade. Then I think I will use a chemical stripper on the handle since it is covered in glue and varnish. Then I guess I will give it a good sanding and refinish.

What else should I know about restoring this saw?

  • How should I treat the blade? Just .000 steel and elbow grease?
  • How can I sharpen it?
  • Can I have a professional saw shop sharpen it?

-- Happy woodworking!

11 comments so far

View MacTownFish's profile


17 posts in 4022 days

#1 posted 11-14-2008 01:31 AM

I googled “Henry Disston and Sons” and got this hit:

If you scroll down the page, there is a .pdf catalog for the year 1939. Your saw looks very much like the Disston #4 Back Saw on page 11 of the catalog although the screw placement in the handle is a little different.

If you look further through the catalog there are instructions on how to use the saw, how to sharpen the blade and other tips.

I don’t know if there’s any way to determine what year your saw might have been manufactured.

You gotta love the internet.

-- Daddy always said, "Try not to bleed on the wood."

View brianinpa's profile


1812 posts in 4230 days

#2 posted 11-14-2008 02:12 AM


Not sure how far you have searched yet, but there are numerous sites devoted to Disston Saws. This is the one I go to a lot. A bunch of info can be gleened from them. Great looking saw, not sure which one of the backsaws you have, but I am sure it is pictured somewhere.

-- Brian, Lebanon PA, If you aren’t having fun doing it, find something else to do.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4607 days

#3 posted 11-14-2008 02:54 AM

I would have it professionally sharpened. I have seen the computer driven machines that sharpen hand saws and the results that they produce. You can’t beat them.

If you want to sharpen it yourself, have it done professionally the first time. Then you only have to maintain it.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Robert's profile


32 posts in 4131 days

#4 posted 11-14-2008 03:01 AM

I’ve just picked up three backsaws. All need work of one sort or another.

The guides I’m following are ‘How to Clean a Saw” & “Saw Filing—A Beginner’s Primer” both found at the library link at

Under Saw Care is information on size of files and “Saw Filing—A Beginner’s Primer” has a large library of handle templates if that is needed; also some good descriptions and historical information

View blackcherry's profile


3343 posts in 4330 days

#5 posted 11-14-2008 03:11 AM

I will tell you that you have on your hands a very fine vintage saw…these saw date back as far as 1864 and some are very highly sought after by collector. Your is known as a back saw and in my estimation would be around 1920’s. This may be a good site to look into for posting and sharing this fine hand tool …Blkcherry

View Don Niermann  's profile

Don Niermann

219 posts in 4480 days

#6 posted 11-14-2008 04:02 AM

On the disston web site there is a area that dates the saw by the button on the handle.

-- WOOD/DON ( has the right to ones opinion but not the right to ones own facts...)

View Joe Brumley's profile

Joe Brumley

70 posts in 4289 days

#7 posted 11-14-2008 04:03 AM

Hey Blake,
Great find. I have an old Disston carcase saw and when I was looking to get it sharpened I was directed to Daryl Weir. He sells a lot on ebay as Woodnut4. Another place that Chris Schwarz just blogged about is Good luck and I can’t wait to see it cleaned up.

-- Joe, Indiana,

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 4601 days

#8 posted 11-14-2008 04:08 AM

Blake, I agree with blackcherry on the site. Excellent resource. Another place you might check for reference information is Here is a link for all their articles specifically related to saws. Down the page, there is a good article about Western Backsaws posted in March.

Here is a clearing house of reference links. MANY things hand tool related including some saw sharpening links.

If you decide to send it out the first time, this fella has restored a lot of saws and is now offering a sharpening service.

Good luck!

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Robert's profile


32 posts in 4131 days

#9 posted 11-14-2008 04:17 AM

TechnoPrimitives is now offering sharpening and sales without going through ebay

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4382 days

#10 posted 11-14-2008 08:26 PM

Wow, thanks for all the great info!

According to THIS page it seems to be a civil war-era saw.

According to THIS it appears that it might be between 1897 and 1917.

Thanks rejr, I like that link for resharpening.

-- Happy woodworking!

View blackcherry's profile


3343 posts in 4330 days

#11 posted 11-15-2008 05:20 AM

Thanks for sharing with us Blake …I got a great kick out of seeing it…cherish this fine vintage tool…Blkcherry

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